Fort Henry

February 6, 1862: Surrender of Fort Henry

Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,

Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,

And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.

Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,

Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,

Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,

Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service

And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army

Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.

Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,

Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,

The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,

Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh

With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,

And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting

From winter and certain memories. 

It didn’t take much. A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue

And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.

Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,

Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far

Though he worked hard and was honest.

A middle-aged clerk,

A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,

Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,

Offering them such service as he could give

And saying he thought that he was fit to command

As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.

So many letters come to a War Department,

One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–

Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,

A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;

A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,

Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;

And then the frozen February gale

Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,

The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–

“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.

                                                                                                                                     Stephen Vincent Benet

The taking of Fort Henry by Ulysses S. Grant on February 6, 1862, was important for a number of reasons:

1.  It opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and transports down through northern Alabama, effectively allowing the Union to outflank  Confederate

defenses in Memphis and  throughout eastern Tennessee. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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